Border Songs

A brazen songwriter with an angelic voice, Tish Hinojosa heads the Border Tour, a roundup of various Texas performers who seem to be on a cultural collision course.

Hinojosa's heartfelt folk music and Spanish corridos mix with Don Walser's honky-tonk swing, while Santiago Jimenez Jr. adds an authentic version of traditional conjunto and Butch Hancock contributes his Panhandle country sound. Hinojosa admits the lineup is unusual. "But we wanted to do something different," she says.

The Border Tour was Hinojosa's idea, though it sprang out of a project commissioned by Texas Folklife Resources. Last year, TFR sponsored a nine-day tour of the Texas-Mexican border featuring Hinojosa and Jimenez; though that tour was a mostly educational effort aimed at preserving the traditional music of the region, Hinojosa decided the show was worth exporting -- and expanding to include more Texas sounds -- and the Border Tour was born.

Each of the tour's four performers plays a solo set, and only occasionally shares the stage. And shifting gears between acts is easier than it would seem, since the four musicians have not just Texas, but excellence in common.

Hinojosa is the first among equals in the show (as the show's actual name -- Tish Hinojosa's Border Tour -- makes clear), a position she draws not only because the Tour was her idea, but because hers is the most marketable name in the quartet. In the last few months, Hinojosa has had two CDs released: December's Destiny's Gate, an English-language collection, and January's Frontejas, which features songs in Spanish. Frontejas, which is Hinojosa's seventh record, is her second Spanish-language release, while Destiny's Gate is made up of solid country and folk tunes. That the two albums were almost simultaneously released on different labels, and that Hinojosa is one of the few recording artists to be signed with two major labels at once, is evidence of her musical duality. Her style is equal parts Nashville, Laredo and Austin, and Hinojosa's is the Tour's only bilingual performance. She brings traditional South of the Border sounds together with a cutting edge Texas folk style, her crystal clear voice proving equally strong on soft ballads or Western Swing dance tunes. And she seems as comfortable with a Mexican torch song from the 1930s as a hip two step.

Like Hinojosa, Walser combines original tunes with classic covers. He's best known for his "She Got Everything But Me" and "Rolling Stone from Texas," but audiences can also expect a few Marty Robbins and Ray Price tunes in his set. Not to mention some genuine Texas yodeling.

Conjunto accordionist Jimenez comes to the Tour with a long list of credentials. His dad was the legendary Don Santiago Jimenez, while his older brother is Tex-Mex star Flaco Jimenez. Santiago Jr., who was nominated for a Grammy Award with Corazon de Piedra, follows his father's traditional Mexican style and makes no apologies for being a revivalist. His melodies are based on the German polkas and waltz tunes of early Texas settlers, and he sometimes uses his father's old German-made, Hohner button accordion, with its two rows of treble clef notes as opposed to the five rows on most modern versions.

Along with his traditional instrumentation, Jimenez draws from his father's syncopated dance rhythm. The result is a surprisingly fresh version of traditional conjunto. Jimenez's playing is articulate and pure, minus unnecessary flourishes but with all the yearning and tenderness corridos require.

Hancock, a member of the well-known Flatlanders with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Joe Ely, is the Border Tour's cowboy poet. His sound is Lubbock-based country with a touch of folk and a generous dose of Panhandle imagery; Hancock's recent release, Eats Away the Night, is just the latest example of his storytelling, character-driven songwriting. "Split & Flied," an ever growing tall tale that's a standard at his live performances, is typical of Hancock's lyrical mastery.

Though it might appear to some that the Border Tour's lineup is too eclectic to find an audience outside of Texas, so far Hinojosa and company have proven the skeptics wrong. Halfway through a 40 city schedule, the Tour has found enthusiastic audiences in a number of states. -- Olivia Torre

Tish Hinojosa's Border Tour plays at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 22 and 7 p.m. Sunday, April 23 at Rockefeller's, 3620 Washington Avenue. Tickets are $18.50, $25.50 and $29.50 for the Saturday performance; $16.50, $23.50 and $27.50 on Sunday. Call 869-8427 for info.

Crit Picks:

Guy Clark It's taken Guy Clark 20 years to turn out eight albums, and while with another artist that might suggest a certain laziness (or else some long periods in rehab), in Clark's case the problem seems to be pickiness. He simply can't let go of a song until he thinks he's got it just right. It's the sort of thing that does wonders for a reputation -- and performers from Emmylou Harris to Rodney Crowell to Radney Foster to Waylon Jennings speak of Clark in an awestruck way that sounds as much of fandom as professional respect -- it doesn't help build up the catalog. Still, since 1975 Clark's turned out more than enough memorable tunes to fill out an evening's performance, and if his face has aged into something that looks like an aerial view of the Texas plains during a period of drought, well, his songs are as fresh as ever. And his interpretation of them has improved with the perspective of experience. At Rockefeller's, 2620 Washington Avenue, Friday, April 21. 869-8427. (Mitchell J. Shields)

 
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